Someone recently asked me about the gang sign I use in my travel photos. Once I stopped laughing, I was able to explain that it’s not a gang sign, it’s the American Sign Language shortcut for “I love you.” I almost asked if they wanted the long or short answer, but decided they’d get the long story answer whether they wanted it or not.
A few years ago my best friend lost her daughter in a tragic car accident. Krissie died well before the word cancer ever showed up in our lives. Back then I was the one who didn’t know what to say or do, but my heart hurt for her grieving family. As long as we’d been friends, it wasn’t until her funeral that I learned their family custom was to say “I love you” before you parted. No matter what. Even if you were angry or didn’t feel you meant it, you said it. The preferred response was, “I love you more.”
So on that horrible summer day, the last words they heard each other say were I love you. Take a minute to think about that. Sometimes we don’t get the chance to say our final goodbyes. Sometimes even when you do plan for them, the universe cruelly changes the plan on you. Sometimes the last time we see someone is the last time we’ll see them forever. Sometimes the last thing you say to someone will be the words that echo in their heart for years to come.
So as we sat there at the funeral letting that sink in, Dan squeezed my hand, and we looked at each other. We didn’t have to say a word. We knew, starting at that moment, we’d adopt that habit too. We even called a family meeting to share with mom and the kids how important this was to us. We understood you don’t always get the happily ever after, we just didn’t know it was OUR ever after that was going to be cut short.
Krissie’s legacy was to help spread that message of love. A legacy that continues as I share this story with you. The last words my family and friends will ever hear me say to them, are I love you, or I love you more. There will never be any question about how we feel about each other. And since I can’t talk to them often from the road, my photos have to say it for me.
As we got close to the end the brain tumors stole Dan’s ability to process word meaning association and, eventually, his ability to speak. But the last words we spoke aloud to each other were, “I love you” and “I love you more.” Thank you, Krissie, for giving me that beautiful gift. I will treasure it always.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
Special thanks to Krissie’s family for giving me their blessing to share this story and Krissie’s photo. Love you more! ❤️
Sometimes it’s best to just hand the reins over to someone else and go along for the ride. Can you believe I just said that? I feel like I should get a “recovering control freak” gold star sticker for that one. This week a tour worked out great since I didn’t have to worry about scheduling ferries or buses or lodging. Instead, I just had a whole lot of enjoying the views along the way and taking time to figure out my next stop. (Still undecided as I write this).
I guess you could say it’s a mini-version of this entire year and my Grand Tour of Europe. Where to go? What to do? Who do I want to be? When your only plan is not to have a plan, it leaves the door wide open for adventure.
I was blessed to be able to cross another item off my bucket list: to visit the fairy tale Isle of Skye. It’s the first time since Dan died that I’ve crossed one off the list that was just mine, not ours…kind of like this whole adventure. And you know what? It felt amazing!
I’ve had so many people comment that they wish they could be brave and do something like this. Here’s the deal. I don’t feel brave. I do, however, believe that choosing to Live Now takes courage. Part of me misses the easy routine of my comfort zone. The other part of me is in a near constant state of bliss to be in a completely new environment. Living now is the only option that makes sense, especially to those of us that have lost so much. We know too damned well that tomorrow is promised to no one.
Live Now doesn’t mean selling everything you own to go on adventures, although that’s what I’m enjoying. It means squeezing every last drop of life out of the minutes we have. It means to be present in everything we do. And I wish for all of us to have a life full of Live Now minutes.
The Wandering Widow
Live Now. Dream Big. Love Fierce.
The Isle of Skye
Visiting the Isle of Skye has been on my list for close to two decades. It didn’t disappoint. One of the bazillion things I love about Scotland is how the clouds and the light are constantly changing. It changes the colors of the landscape from minute to minute and, if you can stay put for a bit, you get a whole new perspective without even moving your feet.
Every time I rounded the corner, I’d think to myself that there couldn’t possibly be a more beautiful vista in the world. And then I’d go to the next place and think the same thing. Maybe it’s all the fairy magic, but it’s definitely beautiful.
The Orkney Isles
It’s a trek to get here, but it’s like being in a whole new country. Colder and windier, the Orkneys gave me my first beaches in Scotland. You know this island girl and beaches; when I see them, they make my heart sing. I don’t care if they are sunny and tropical or cold and windy. It was a bit too cold to put my toes in the sand and water, but I could have stayed and walked for hours if I wasn’t worried about being left behind.
The Orkneys are also home to Neolithic stone circles and Pictish archeological sites.
The ghosts of my Highlander ancestors must know when I’m back because it always works out that I have perfect weather. There aren’t enough words to describe the breathtaking vistas, so photos will have to do.
I didn’t realize we were going to stop at the Cairns of Loch Loyne. The first cairn was put there to honor Hugh Mackay. I left a few stones in memory of Dan. It was fitting since the Bains are part of Clan Mackay. There were so many stone piles, some with names and dates. To think that all these people had traveled here to honor their dead was overwhelming. It was moving and emotional and I bawled my eyes out for the first time since I left home. Actually, it was the first time in a long time so I guess I was due.
Since I had trouble narrowing down which photos to include, here are a few extras.
Is it possible to fall in love with a place a little more each day? At the rate I’m going, I’ll never be able to leave Scotland. After Edinburgh, I arrived in Stirling, a sleepy university town, and felt every cell in my body give up a big happy sigh. With a whole week to explore, I had the opportunity to slow things down and enjoy every minute of this town. How often do you go on holiday and get to spend a rainy day in a coffee shop or pub people watching for hours without feeling like you’re wasting time?
Just like everywhere else I’ve visited in Scotland, the people are friendly and welcoming. Out of everything Scotland has to offer, the people are what I love best. I’ve said more than once that with its rugged beauty and relaxed lifestyle Scotland reminds me of Idaho before the hipsters moved in, only with more rain.
September is a perfect time to visit. You can feel a hint of the crisp fall air in the mornings, and the leaves on the trees are just starting to turn even though summer flowers are still in bloom. A poet friend recently told me that all poets love the autumn. And while I’m no poet, the overwhelming desire to capture the beauty of this season is contagious.
My heart is well on its way to mending, but there is something about the fall that is cozy and snuggly and warm and nurturing. As my son-in-law likes to say, it’s sweater weather. I can’t think of a better place to enjoy it than Stirling. It became so comfortable, so quickly, I really didn’t want to leave.
The Wandering Widow
Stirling is so much more than a home base for other sites in the area, especially if you like the outdoors. I spent a week here and could have stayed longer.
If you’re not driving, Stirling is super easy to access by train and is only an hour from Edinburgh or Glasgow. Navigating Scotland’s buses and trains are easy, even for someone like me who has “getting lost” as my super power. The town is also easy to navigate, although I confess to getting lost once when relying too heavily on my GPS instead of my eyeballs.
There are a few local historical sites to see, but if you run around screaming “Freedom” at the top of your lungs, you’ll be asked to leave. Kidding. But seriously, please don’t do that.
If you can only pick one thing to see in Stirling, this is it. It’s worth the 246 step climb up a narrow spiral staircase to the top for the breathtaking views. And if your only knowledge of William Wallace was Braveheart, be prepared to have your world rocked with the actual history of the man.
You can access the monument easily by bus from Stirling (about a twenty-minute ride) if you don’t want to drive. If you’re feeling extra Genki, you can also walk from town, but don’t forget you then need to walk (or shuttle) up a hill to get to the base of the monument.
Not my favorite castle in the world, but I’m easily bored with castles, so take my opinion with a grain of salt. My favorite parts were the gardens and the view. Shocker, I know. But it was interesting to learn about the famous unicorn tapestry. In case you didn’t already know, the unicorn is Scotland’s national animal, earning the country serious cool points.
In my humble-non-castle-stalking opinion, this one was a lot more fun than Stirling. Well known for its use as an on-location film site for Monty Python and the Holy Grail, Game of Thrones and Outlander, out of all the castle tours I’ve done, this has my favorite audio tour. Monty Python’s Terry Jones narrates and after each of the historical bits, are optional Monty Python details. There is something special about standing in a ruined castle hearing a Frenchman scream out that your mother was a hamster and your father smells of elder berries. Don’t take my word for it though, check it out yourself.
For you Outlander fans, the audio tour also provides filming updates from that Jamie guy.
The Dupplin Cross:
Venture out to Dunning and St. Serf’s church, and you can see the Dupplin Cross. It’s a Pictish stone carved in the shape of an Irish cross and is over a thousand years old. It’s free to visit, and the lovely docents will give you the history and point out important features, so don’t forget to donate before you leave.
The Bluebell Tearoom serves breakfast all day and has a gluten free menu, for those of you who care about that sort of thing. I loved that the hostess had been through Idaho, and we were able to chat about my home state.
The Friar’s Wynd is clean and bright, has great service, excellent food and is a great choice for a nice dinner.
The Smithy was a surprise. I wasn’t sure about trying it since my local friend hadn’t heard of it, but it got glowing recommendations for the “best food in Stirling” from another member of the Scottish travel group I joined on Facebook. I’m glad I tried it! It’s not far from Stirling Castle and is a light, bright cafe/tea house. The food was, in fact, the best I’ve had in Stirling and a great alternative to pub food. Everything was fresh and light (soups, salads, sandwiches, etc.) and delish.
In Dunning, have lunch or dinner at The Kirkstyle Inn. I had a superb dish of sea scallops, green apples, and black pudding. I can’t explain why that combo worked, but it was so delicious I might have licked the plate had I been by myself.
The Curly Coo is a must visit for whiskey drinkers, for the 130 single malt whiskey options as well as meeting Miss Mandy, the sassy pants proprietor. She recommended Deanston (among others) since it’s local. (I tried to get to Deanston Distillery later in the week for their whiskey and chocolate tour but the day I attempted to go the roads closed to buses, and my ankle wouldn’t agree to the 8-mile walk).
I’ve been chomping at the bit to get hiking since my last visit in April and was fortunate to have a friend here take me out exploring. We managed to get in a hike to Loss Hill before an old ankle injury kicked in and removed hiking (and dancing) off the list for a few weeks, but it was worth it.
Loss Hill was beautiful, and the irony of the name wasn’t lost on me. It’s just behind Dumyat Hill (where Wallace Monument is) if you’re looking at it from town. The beauty of hiking in Scotland is that you just decide which direction you want to go and start walking. In the states, property laws are pretty strict, and as I’d rather not get shot, I’ve never trespassed over fences before. It’s an entirely different scenario in Scotland, and I climbed over a bunch of fences (including barbed wire) on this hike. I also got to hike in the peat bog, which was new and different (and coincidentally the part my ankle didn’t like). In the two and half hours we were out, we saw sheep, deer and the weather change repeatedly from blue skies to storm clouds and back again. Classic Scotland! The only thing that could have made it better would have been some heilan coos, but I have lots of time left to see those cute furry cows.
The Lodging: Shona’s flat was my first Air B&B in Scotland, and ideally located in the middle of town (a five-minute walk from the train and bus station, and a ten-minute walk to Stirling Castle). While I didn’t need a three bedroom flat all to myself, it was nice to have all the comforts of home, including laundry and wifi. She was a gracious hostess, and I would stay here again.
On my recent adventure down the Snake River in a kayak, I spent a lot of hours fighting the wind and the current. I’d lost my momentum and kept getting spun around and around. I started to panic when I realized I was the last of our group and falling even further behind. So naturally, I fought even harder, which didn’t do anything but tire me out faster.
I stopped fighting to control where I was going and started laughing when I realized I was stuck in my favorite grief recovery metaphor. For the better part of the last six months, I’ve reminded myself that I need to go with the flow. That if I untie myself from the pier and stop fighting the current, the river will carry me where I need to go. It’s something I work on daily. (Recovering control freak, remember)?
Just as it is in our grief journeys, we can’t control how long it takes or how we get through it. So I quit paddling and reminded myself to breathe through the fear. I spun around some more as I let the river carry me where it wanted to, but managed to enjoy the view along the way as I eventually made it to where I needed to be.
As I get ready to head out in search of global adventure, I needed to get a few last-minute checks off my Idaho bucket list. If you’ve never been to my adopted home state, you’re missing out. I’ve been blessed to see a lot of it and this weekend, thanks to some amazing friends, I focused on the Valley of Magic. (Okay, so it’s called the Magic Valley, but I like my version better).
I started at the Minidoka Internment Camp Monument. This has been on my list for a long time. This memorial to a blight on American history has huge significance for the Japanese American community. When I first moved to Idaho, I was surprised to learn that the Japanese Americans I met either didn’t celebrate their heritage (like we did in Hawaii) or didn’t know about it. The more I learned about Minidoka, the more that made sense to me. Why would you celebrate the very thing that caused you to lose everything and get rounded up and imprisoned like cattle? For those of you that don’t make time to read but want to learn more, I recommend the Dennis Quaid movie, Come See The Paradise. Not only an amazing love story, but a pretty good depiction of the time.
I also found it shocking that most Idahoans don’t know about the role their state played in one of the most regrettable acts in American history. Groups like Friends of Minidoka are helping to change that (if you want to support their efforts you can donate at minidoka.org). Heavy stuff, and a story that more people need to hear. My friend and fellow adventurer, an Idaho native, was there for the first time too and she was sad to learn about all of it. But it felt surprisingly peaceful to me as if the simple act of being there and bearing witness was enough to calm the energy of the place. The Japanese have a word called gaman, which is loosely translated as enduring the seemingly unbearable with patience and dignity. In hindsight, I guess that attitude also helped get me through my dark days of grief, although the patience and dignity parts are questionable, so we’ll just go with enduring.
After the dusty camp, it felt great to spend two days on the water.
The first day we rented kayaks and had a leisurely float down the Snake River under the Perrine Bridge in Twin Falls. Normally you’d see base jumpers off the bridge, but it was quiet there that day. The water was relatively smooth, and the wind wasn’t horrible. Overall a perfect set up for a beginner.
The second day a group of us kayaked down the Snake River in Hagerman to get to Blue Heart Springs. This little crystal blue oasis off the river is fed by underground springs. On a clear day, you can see straight down to the white sand bottom and see the bubbles percolating up to the surface. It was windy the day we went (not ideal conditions for a beginner), but the crystal blue water was still amazing. I never cease to be amazed at the beauty we can find if we make time to look for it. Blue Heart Springs is a Caribbean blue jewel in the middle of the high desert.
So for those of you that have been wanting to find an adventure of your own, it may be closer than you think. What’s waiting for you to find in your backyard? Live Now. ❤️
The Wandering Widow
Minidoka Internment Camp:
Bring your walking shoes and park near the entrance under the guard tower. Follow the paths and read the placards. Many have audio options of interview excerpts from people who lived in the camps. It’s free to enter and self-guided, but you’ll want to monitor the website to see if there are any activities going on while you’re there.
My favorite quote:
I will always remember my father’s statement on the eve of our departure to Camp Harmony. “I don’t know what will happen to us. I don’t know where they’re going to take us. I don’t know whether we will ever be able to come back here. But always remember, this is your country, and you must act accordingly.”
Kayaking under the Perrine Bridge:
Put in at Centennial Waterfront Park. We rented kayaks and all our gear from AWOL. They made it super easy. Make your reservation online, check in and sign your waiver, and then walk to the dock where some very nice young people will help you get all set up. You don’t even have to drag your gear, just hop in your kayak (or raft or paddle board or whatever) and have fun. We took a leisurely two-hour trip which got us past the bridge and allowed a leisurely return.
And if you need a quick snack while in Twin Falls, head downtown to Twin Bean, home of the best crepes I’ve ever had. The fact that they were named after Harry Potter has nothing to do with that, although my Gryffindor crepe was magical.
Kayaking to Blue Heart Springs:
I borrowed gear for this one, but you can rent in Hagerman and have them delivered to the “dock” at Banbury Springs. If you don’t plan on making a return trip, you’ll want to leave a second vehicle behind at Thousand Springs RV park so you can get back.
This was a four-hour trip for us. We fought wind and current in both directions (which is why I can’t lift my coffee cup today) so it took some of us a lot longer to get through. When you get to Blue Heart Springs, you’ll find a spot on the rocks to have lunch (don’t forget to pack yours) and enjoy the sunshine. FYI the water is COLD. Shock your system cold. While some of us did jump in, we didn’t linger.
Sometimes when you can’t see the answer, you need to change your perspective. That thought thundered through my brain this morning as I woke up at the butt crack of dawn to meet a friend to go on a hot air balloon ride. (For some reason I’m determined to get over my fear of heights and can’t seem to keep my feet on the ground).
I’d originally purchased this trip for Mom since a balloon ride was something she’d talked about wanting to do pretty much my whole life. As Dan and I rushed to check as many things off our bucket list while we could, it became important to me to help her Live Now with one of hers. As it turned out, she wasn’t able to make it, but I’m grateful that I got to. I’d have never known what I was missing.
As I get ready to set sail on world adventures, having some in my own backyard seems like a good idea. And Boise pulled out all the stops this morning. After nine months of trying to get off the ground, this morning dawned still and beautiful for our early morning trip. Our balloon was named the Phoenix, which couldn’t have been more perfect since the rising Phoenix has become the symbol of my survival and transformation. And it’s the heat of the fire that lifts the balloon to new heights, new views, and a new perspective.
If you ever get the chance, do it. Sometimes the only place left to go is up.
The Wandering Widow
We booked with Boise Hot Air Balloon Company. They’ve been easy to work with despite the multiple rescheduling. Safety is a priority, so don’t give them a hard time if you get grounded at the last minute. I thought my nine months of rescheduling was long, but there was another passenger who’d waited two years. Boise weather this last year hasn’t been kind to balloon pilots.
We met early at the Albertson’s parking lot in Eagle and were shuttled to Eagle Island Park for launch. TIP: if you are in a hurry to get back, you’ll want to schedule your own driver. We ended up having to wait for everything to be packed up before we got shuttled back, turning a 45 minute flight into a three hour excursion.
The weather in the air is about 10 degrees warmer than on the ground. Add to that the temperature inside the balloon itself can get close to 200 degrees, and you may not need a jacket. Long pants and closed toe shoes are required, and you will want to remember your sunglasses, since you’ll be staring into the sun for the better part of the ride. But what an amazing sunrise!